Royal reform bid threatens rally turnout

Royal reform bid threatens rally turnout

Broadening of demands by protest leaders may prove unpopular, warn critics

Protesters rally at Sanam Luang on Sept 19, 2020, and they will hold another demonstration on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Wednesday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Protesters rally at Sanam Luang on Sept 19, 2020, and they will hold another demonstration on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on Wednesday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The anti-government demonstration planned for Oct 14 will not draw huge numbers as long as protest leaders insist on the reform of the monarchy, according to academics and observers.

All eyes are now on the student-led rally which will take place at Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on the 47th anniversary of the 1973 student-led uprising that culminated in the downfall of the military government of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.

The rally will be led by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD).

Protest leaders hope the significance of the Oct 14 date will draw a larger crowd, but security agencies have predicted that attendance will be lower than the rally held at Sanam Luang on Sept 19-20 because of the likely absence of supporters of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), according to analysts.

This is mainly because the protest leaders have failed to stick to their original demands -- constitutional amendments, dissolution of the House and an end to the harassment of government critics. By adding the demand for a reform of the kingdom's highest institution, they now risk losing public support, observers said.

Another reason is because the Pheu Thai Party has now distanced itself from the protests after de-facto leader Khunying Potjaman Damapong, ex-wife of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, took the party helm.

Some Pheu Thai MPs were reportedly instrumental in mobilising the red-shirt supporters to join the last two protests held by the Free People group.

According to sources, Khunying Potjaman wants the party to focus on its role in parliament rather than the protests outside it, so has instructed MPs to cease marshalling red-shirt support for the rallies.

Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, a co-leader of the Free People group, said the group has now changed its name to Khana Ratsadorn, or the People's Group, to entice more political factions.

It is the name originally used by the group of military officers and civilians which led the 1932 revolution that culminated in the abolition of absolute monarchy in favour of a constitutional one.

Mr Arnon, also a co-leader of the UFTD, has urged students to skip class and employees to stop work to attend the rally.

He emphasised demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the opening of a special parliamentary session to accept a charter amendment bill from the civil sector and the reform of the monarchy.

However, Mr Arnon said that he believes the number of protesters joining the rally will be larger than ever specifically due to the widening of its list of demands.

LOSING SUPPORT

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, told the Bangkok Post that while young students are expected to join the rally, the crowd may not be as large as the protest leaders hope.

Mr Stithorn said that hardline protest leaders such as Mr Arnon and Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, another co-leader of the UFTD, have failed to maintain the momentum of their anti-government movement.

They may now have to step aside and let the Free Student group take the lead with its focus on the three original demands, which carry a broader public appeal.

''The Free Student group has close ties with the Move Forward Party which is a reincarnation of the dissolved Future Forward Party. But the group led by Penguin is linked with other civil groups such as iLaw [Internet Law Reform Dialogue],'' Mr Stithorn said.

He said that if the UFTD does not scale back its demands regarding the monarchy, the event may not gain popular support.

Mr Stithorn also pointed out the young protesters who attended the rally on Sept 19 returned home very quickly and they were not prepared to camp out overnight for long periods.

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, echoed the view and added that Oct 14 also falls on a working day.

Pheu Thai's support has also diminished after the recent shake-up of the party's executives, Mr Wanwichit said.

Most importantly, the protest group's stance on the monarchy has turned away many supporters, Mr Wanwichit said.

He noted that the Palang Pracharath Party-led government's plan to hold provincial administrative organisation elections in December has also moved attention away from the rallies as all parties must now channel their time and resources into these campaigns.

"Considering everything, the Oct 14 rally will not see a huge crowd and it is unlikely to drag on," Mr Wanwichit said.

A Pheu Thai MP in the Northeast, who preferred not to be named, also agreed that demands for royal reform could put people off from attending.

RED SHIRTS' STANCE

Anuwat Tinnarat, former leader of the UDD's Nakhon Ratchasima chapter, said that red-shirt followers in the northeastern province are ready to travel to Bangkok to attend the rally.

However, it is unclear if vehicles will be arranged for them to make the trip after Pheu Thai's change of executive board, Mr Anuwat said.

He admitted that the UDD can only mobilise red-shirt supporters to join rallies it there are buses or pickup trucks laid on to transport them.

"This time, we are still waiting to hear whether vehicles will be arranged to take us to Sanam Luang," Mr Anuwat said.

Normally, Pheu Thai MPs do not want to quarrel with the red-shirt supporters who make up the support base of the party, Mr Anuwat said.

Mr Anuwat said that the red-shirts in Nakhon Ratchasima who attended the Sept 19 rally at Sanam Luang were looked after by a local MP.

Sompote Prasartthai, another former UDD leader based in Nakhon Ratchasima, said many red-shirt followers in the province will now travel in personal vehicles to join the planned protest in Bangkok.

Similarly in Chiang Mai, Phichit Tamool, a local UDD leader, said that about 500 red-shirts in the northern province have registered to travel in 30-40 passenger vans to attend the Oct 14 rally. Their aim is to seek the ouster of the government, he said.

UDD chairman Jatuporn Prompan meanwhile stressed the UDD's support for the charter amendment, House dissolution and a new election.

"The red-shirts remain steadfast in calling for democracy. Nothing has changed. Victory is within reach if we stick to these three principles. But if we go beyond that, it will be more difficult," Mr Jatuporn said.

POLICE CONCERNS

Pol Maj Gen Somprasong Yenthuam, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB), has made an initial prediction that no more than the 15,000 who turned out for the Sept 19 demonstration will turn out on Oct 14.

"But our concern is that the protest leaders may not be able to control the crowd, as shown in the Sept 24 rally in front of parliament. On that day, some protesters verbally abused authorities and tried to engage in violence and there was nothing the protest leaders could do about it," Pol Maj Gen Somprasong said.

Another problem is that the protest leaders have refused to meet for talks with police ahead of time, which has made crowd control planning difficult, he claimed.

Police are also verifying whether the protest leaders have sought permission to hold the rally under the public assembly law, Pol Maj Gen Somprasong said.

He added that the Metropolitan Police Bureau will deploy about 3,000 officers to maintain order, with reinforcements from Provincial Police Regions 1,2,3,4 and 7 under instruction to deal with people arriving for other provinces to join the protest.

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